Manasi Sapre, Head of Content at Viu, gets candid with IndianWikiMedia

Experience has an essence of ingenuity, subtle confidence and a tone of dominance, if not defiance. The sun was shimmery when we walked into the lavish corridors of Viu India, the OTT network churning out some binge worthy content on the go.

The space was full of restless positive creative energy, people hungry with ideas and passion to shake up the space with some awe inspiring endeavors, and Viu’s diverse engaging shows remain testimony to it.

Coffee was served, cookies crumbled and walked in Manasi Sapre, Head of Content at Viu.

‘Hi, thanks for dropping by,” she said in her inimitable style. Her demeanor depicting her credible impressive body of work over the years. An industry veteran (ex UTV) and an author (Pune Murder Chronicles), Manasi is a quintessential intelligent storyteller always in search of the next best concept.

Here’s the excerpt from the enlightened conversation we had with ‘marvellous’, ‘maverick’ Manasi. Read on…  

Hello…welcome to IndianWikiMedia. So, you have been a television content creator. Now you are in the digital space. Could you highlight the major difference between the two mediums?

The first difference is the screen. There is a screen in your room and there is one in your hand, be it a tablet or a phone, etc etc. Remember, there were days when people were scared to watch an English film at home thinking a kissing scene might come up. In digital, the screen makes things a lot personal where one gets to choose what they want to watch. Television, of course, has evolved over the years and is undoubtedly the most sophisticated, streamlined medium. TV has a measuring metric and data helps to formulate plans. However, digital is comparatively very vast, it’s at a nascent stage. No one can say what will work or not, hence it also gives scope for opportunity. It is also linear vs non-linear. The storytelling is very different, the production is very different. At Viu, we follow a 13 episodes show format, we don’t call it a web-series but a digital show. We work with some of the finest minds and we educate them on our vision and the narrative requirement. So, there is TV, movies and somewhere in between is digital. 

Fair enough…but do you feel it’s become a norm to use sex, sleaze and cuss to gain instant eyeballs in the digital medium? 

(thinks a bit) Let me begin by stating that Viu as a company will complete 10 years in business and we are pretty cautious about our consumer interest. We have a strong lineage of content creation.  Hence, we don’t play the guessing game. We are a data driven company. We have seven to eight major consumer research a year, across markets, TGs, cities etc. Hence, we know what people want to watch. It will be erroneous for anyone to assume that sex or sleaze will make a show hit. The clickbait ideology will work on a high reach driven platform like Youtube, which is more like a search engine. But for us, people download our app because they relate to our content. Storytelling is key for us. using quick fixes can work for a four min clip and for those aiming at short term gain. At Viu, we are here for a long run. 

Well said…so Viu has an interesting diverse line-up of shows, be it Gehraiyaan, Social, Memories et al. So what is the platform’s core content philosophy?

Like they say, variety is the spice of life. Our stories are likable and slice of life. For us, it’s not about stars, or bold content…it is about the narrative. We have a very strong story coming up next called Agni. But we will not play on the sensation or controversy card but focus on the story and the message. Spotlight 2 is an out & out love story. Social, as a concept, could have been very edgy, but it is everyday relatable storytelling. If at all a script demands a certain amout of bold narration, then we have to back it, like in case of Spotlight 1. Watch it, it’s all seamless. 

Viu as a company will complete 10 years in business and we are pretty cautious about our consumer interest. We have a strong lineage of content creation.  Hence, we don’t play the guessing game. We are a data driven company

As someone who is so experienced in the medium of storytelling, do you feel digital will overtake television in terms of reach and impact?

To seek an answer, you have to see the trend. Digital as a medium is more convenient. Today, even developing countries are consuming content on the go in huge numbers, leave alone developed nations where it has become a norm. TV has seen a rise but the graph of OTT’s growth is pretty similar. Whether it will overtake TV as a medium or not only time will tell, but certainly digital will draw a strong parallel. There are challenges, yes, but the space will definitely grow and eventually be the preferred medium. 

Now, let’s talk about the subscription model in the OTT business. Do you think Indians are ready to pay for content?

Viu is a premium content network, essentially for the emerging markets. So is India ready to pay? Well, it depends on how well you sell the content. It’s up to each platform to see how they can make it more viable, feasible for the audience to become more loyal and eventually pay and stick around. Mark my words, good content will persist. 

We agree…what is Manasi’s personal preference of storytelling?

(smiles)…Personal and professional choices should be kept separate. At Viu, we are experimenting with different genres… horror, slice of life, edgy et al. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s all about storytelling. The line up next year is interesting. We will eventually find our sweet spot. At times you feel this is great but audience rejects it. So, one has to keep personal preferences away. Consumer is the ultimate King. Personally, I watch a lot of content, I grab stuff here and there. Experience allows me to understand consumer needs and the right way of storytelling minus the razzmatazz.  

Censorship should not be brought in the digital space. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that content creators will shirk away from responsibilities. One can debate on it, of course, but the space needs liberty

So you keep a tab of the competition around?

Absolutely. 

Any creator or OTT network you feel is doing a laudable job?

I feel AltBalaji is doing some interesting stuff. Something to look out for, especially for the pedigree. They are experimenting with interesting concepts. 

Yes, Bose is looking good. You know the content business pays eventually if not immediately. Do you feel networks with only deep pockets will last and rest will perish in the long run?

More than deeper pockets, consistency will prove to be the decider. Largeness doesn’t guarantee success, especially in Indian market. Networks which would create good content continuously keeping in mind the nation’s diversity will survive the competition. 

Digital as a medium is more convenient. Today, even developing countries are consuming content on the go in huge numbers, leave alone developed nations where it has become a norm. TV has seen a rise but the graph of OTT’s growth is pretty similar. Whether it will overtake TV as a medium or not only time will tell

What would happen to individual content creators via-a-vis the larger networks. Is collaboration the only way ahead?

See, people like AIB and TVF did start the entire digital content creation wave in India. They captured people’s imagination who wanted to watch something different. Again, I would like to mention that churning out content consistently is important and next is to get into right kind of collaboration. Correct syncing of energies in this cluttered space… smart partnerships will help. Surviving solo would be a tad difficult, I feel.  

Now, let’s talk about censorship in digital media… do you feel it is a requisite today where the idea of freedom is often ‘misused’?

I feel, censorship should not be brought in the digital space. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that content creators will shirk away from responsibilities. One can debate on it, of course, but the space needs liberty. Viu has certain principles like we don’t show violence against children, don’t objectify women, among others, and we stick by it. One can have a counter opinion, which is okay, but the essence of storytelling has to be intact in digital space. Dialogue is needed but not a sudden overnight axing. Yes, there are certain shows out there you feel are very irresponsible. One has to be more careful, but censorship is not what the medium needs.

Point taken…so what do you do to keep constantly evolving as a content creator?

Well, reading is the only way, I feel. When you read more your art of storytelling improves. Then, of course, we meet and work with many creative minds, which further aids the process of creation. As a storyteller, you read, write and repeat (smiles).

Nicely put…so any guidelines or heads up to those who want to pitch a show to Manasi?

First and foremost, don’t come up with some wannabe copied concepts. Please understand the narrative and the medium properly. Clarity at the concept stage is very important. Don’t come and say this is like Netflix. We don’t need to be like someone else. We have our own stories to be told, as per our audience preferences and we need to cater to that.  Get good stories, that’s it.

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